Moral Low Ground

Civil Liberties

Rhode Island High School Student Sues School Over Christian Prayer Banner

The Rhode Island ACLU is suing the city of Cranston and the School Committee on behalf of a student who believes a Christian prayer banner hanging in the auditorium of the public school violates the constitutional separation of church and state. According to the Providence Journal, the 10th grade student, Jessica Ahlquist, who is an atheist, objects to the banner on personal as well as constitutional grounds. She says the banner, which is more than 8 feet (2.4 meters) long and contains the Christian words “Our Heavenly Father” and “Amen”, makes her feel “excluded, ostracized and devalued” by her school.

The School Committee has dismissed the complaint, filed in the US District Court in Providence, calling it a “misguided attempt to rid public buildings of historic references to religion.” “We don’t want to erase our school’s history because one person in the history of the school objects,” said School Committee member Frank Lombardi. The banner has been on the wall of Cranston West’s auditorium since 1963.

Still, many high schools across America have changed their mascots because they were racist anachronisms of a bygone era. And, more importantly, Ahlquist has the Constitution on her side.

The sophomore atheist spoke at a press conference:

“The Christian- Catholic prayer may bring comfort to the majority of students in my school but it sends a different message to the large population of students of other faiths, or in my case, none. The prayer’s presence in the school promotes and endorses the ideals of Christianity and the concept of the single heavenly father. As not all students feel that this is true, and I am one of those students, I firmly believe that it should not be on display in a public school and is in direct violation of my and other students’ civil rights… The prayer does not belong in a public school and that is why I have come forward to challenge it.”

Rabbi Peter Stein of Temple Sinai agreed: “This is a moment to defend a clear separation between church and state,” he said at the press conference.

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  1. WakakoApril 6, 2011 at 10:59 amReply

    She’s damn right.

  2. Ms. MApril 6, 2011 at 1:02 pmReply

    I second that Wakako!

  3. SharonOctober 11, 2011 at 6:27 amReply

    Unbelievable what some people will do for a little bit of fame. Let her have her 15 minutes, wait it out, she’ll graduate soon and if they drag it out the banner can stay. After all, those who believe have rights too.

    • NagashOctober 19, 2011 at 8:15 amReply

      Sharon: You do indeed have every right to believe as you see fit. What you do not have, nor does anyone have, is the right to impose your belief upon anyone else that does not share your faith, and that is unabashedly the case in this school prayer. The law is quite clear on this, there is no middle ground, nor should there be, nor will there be. Kudos to you Jessica for standing up and supporting the law and the Constitution. You are a true American.

  4. ScornucopiaOctober 13, 2011 at 7:31 amReply

    “After all, those who believe have rights too.”

    Civics fail. How about we replace it with a Muslim or Hindu prayer, or is it only “those who believe” in Jesus who have the right to exclude others and violate the Establishment Clause?

    • ronOctober 13, 2011 at 8:25 pmReply

      All I have to say in the end when you are wrong and I am right,there will be no time for you to change. I’ll pray for you even though you said you don’t believe. Just remember the next time something hurts you don’t scream out of God if you don’t believe in him. Blessings

      • IanNovember 15, 2011 at 6:34 amReply

        English has three major sources for expletives:


        Use of any of them does not necessarily indicate approving of one of those categories more highly than others.

  5. AaronDecember 13, 2011 at 7:37 amReply

    Let me just say that we Christians find it just as offensive to our religious rights, insured by the first amendment, as you do. So does it really solve anything by taking the banner down. If you don’t like it, don’t look at it. We have our religion, you have yours, or none. The first amendment is for FREEDOM OF RELIGION. It dose not say every religion but Christianity. Your lawsuit is offensive to my religion, and therefor you are in violation of my first amendment rights as well! If you don’t like it that’s fine. But let me remind all of you that our country was founded on God, and no matter how much you deny that, it will never be changed, because it’s history.

    • JonJanuary 11, 2012 at 10:27 pmReply

      Apologies Aaron but I think you must have missed your high school civics class.

    • IvanJanuary 19, 2012 at 1:07 pmReply

      Read most of the founding fathers’ works. Additionally I would like to hang a hammer and sickle to express my communist beliefs and if you got a problem with that then tough shit, just don’t look at it.

  6. johnJanuary 15, 2012 at 3:43 pmReply

    The school isn’t advocating any prayer, it’s been up there and not being forced nor is there any connection. If they removed the words ‘school prayer’ from it, it would be acceptable. She’s in the fault as it wasn’t being forced upon her, nor does it have anything to do with being an atheist. She’s forcing her non-belief upon others when they aren’t being able to exercise their belief system. But while it’s down, the students are giving her enough grief with their nice ” Team Jesus ” shirts that they are wearing to school. Don’t start something you can’t handle.

  7. LloydJanuary 18, 2012 at 1:47 pmReply

    This is a truly sad day for America and all humanity.This young lady is the devil’s prime mouthpiece and is fulfiling prophecy exactly as spoken in the Bible.Why can’t she just stick with her atheism and leave Christianity alone?I feel sorry for her>>misleading thousands of people to receive eternal damnation by rejecting the One who came to die for them.Whether you believe in GOD or not all shall give an account and shall receive their due reward…

    • Brett WilkinsJanuary 18, 2012 at 3:28 pmReplyAuthor

      And I feel sorry for you for being so blinded by superstitious dogma!

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